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We live in a world of division. We see the
world as consisting of Us and Them. This occurs on many levels ranging
from politics (Republican - Democrat), to sports, and yes it has even
invaded our faith life (Catholic - Protestant, liberal - conservative).
These divisions often lead us to view the "other" group as our enemy. But
the Council of Trent reminds us, our real enemy
is the devil or Satan. Thus, rather than working to beat the
Republicans or Democrats, the liberals or the conservatives, we should be Working to Beat Hell.
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Catholicism 101: Virgin Birth and Immaculate Conception
Fr. Brian Carpenter
A reader recently asked that I cover the difference between two dogmatic doctrines of the Church that are often confused and conflated: The Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth.
Before we get into these two dogmas of faith, it is important to understand what is meant by the term dogma. Dogma is a revealed truth of the faith that must be held by all Catholics as true. Dogma is not a man-made declaration, but a revealed truth, and therefore it cannot be changed.
The dogma of the Virgin Birth declares that Mary remained a virgin while giving birth to her son (our Lord) Jesus. Certainly medical technology has made it possible for women to conceive a child while retaining their virginity. And some scientists even claim that is possible for a person to be born with both sex glands and therefore conceive while retaining their virginity. Yet both of these are foreign to the dogma of the Virgin Birth. For the conception of Christ came about not through the use of technology, nor was it an aberration of nature. Rather, the incarnation of Christ came about through the Holy Spirit. That is to say, it was God, intervening and breaking into human history in a miraculous way that brought about the conception of Christ, ultimately resulting in the Virgin Birth. The Virgin Birth, therefore, is not something for science to explain, but for faith to receive and contemplate.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception refers not to the conception of Jesus, but of His mother, Mary. This dogma declares that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. This does not mean that she was conceived apart from the marital act. Rather, it means that God granted Mary a special grace, called prevenient grace, that protected her from the original sin of Adam and Eve.
The fact that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin, does not, however, mean that she is void of the need for a savior. Mary herself declares, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:47). Rather, what the Church teaches is that Mary did need her Son (who is God) as her savior. But unlike us, who are in need of His forgiveness from sin, Mary had no need for forgiveness for sin, as she never committed sin. Instead, her salvation is dependent upon the prevenient grace granted to her from the moment of her conception. This grace, without which Mary would be in the same boat as the rest of us – in need forgiveness, is given to her by God, and part of the salvific work of Christ. Thus, she can properly call Jesus her savior as she is dependent upon Him for prevenient grace. At the same time, the Angels can properly declare that Mary is “full of grace,” (Luke 1:28) as she has no sin in her, and indeed is filled with God's grace. What is important to remember though, is that her being “full of grace” is God’s doing, not hers, hence she, like all of us, needs God as her savior.
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Brian Carpenter is a priest of the
Diocese of Rochester, NY. Fr. Brian Carpenter. Rev. Brian Carpenter.